Use of Feet and Turnout in Pre-Ballet

Forcing too much turnout in young children is not only unsafe, it is also unnecessary. Their bodies allow for a gradual progression with a projected 90º turnout achieved by the age of 7 or 8. As they get older, teachers must explain how to externally rotate from the hip to allow for the increase of flexibility and strength over time. Teachers should never force a child’s turnout, rather, it should occur naturally. What is good and safe for our pre-ballet students when it comes to turnout, and what can we expect when they begin to point their feet to the front?

turnout progression preballet

This graphic shows the maximum amount of turnout to allow with each age group. Not all children should use the amount shown. Less is recommended for any child who is not strong enough to hold the entire leg turned out this far. Turnout must not occur at ankles or knees, but only at the hip joint.

The Test: Have the child stand in first position and bend the knees. Do the knees come vertically over the centers of the feet? Is the hip girdle centered vertically above the centers of the feet?

If not, less turnout must be used, perhaps even parallel feet, until the child’s leg and hip muscles mature and strengthen to where they can hold the correct alignment. Forcing the correct position will not help. The child must be able to do it correctly on their own muscle power, repeatedly, without help, once the correct “demi plié” position is shown and explained.

Q: Should you allow the more talented child to use more turnout?

Q: Should you promote them into an older class for more challenge?

The answer to both questions should be a firm “no.” Some children may appear to be able to do more turnout, and to do it correctly, but even the most talented child still needs to have a strong base of natural alignment in their muscles and joints (How to Avoid Injury with Correct Muscle Use). They, too, need to spend the time it takes to prepare and strengthen their bodies for the demands of technical ballet. Too much too soon will not help (See “Why the Rush?”). Challenge the talented child intellectually, socially and artistically, but not technically during the pre-ballet years.

The amount and the frequency of turning out the legs are both important considerations in a pre-ballet class. Turnout should only be used during about 10% to 20% of a pre-ballet class. Natural, or parallel alignment is what forms a strong, secure, less injury prone base for ballet technique. Children need to move and work their bones and muscles in their natural alignment most of the time, even during dance class.

Strength in the natural alignments and basic movements is very important to classical ballet. Too much turnout, either in degree or in time spent using it in class can result in weaker joints, weaker muscles, and greater likelihood of dance injury in future years.

That which contributes to the child’s normal growth for normal everyday activities is also what builds the best base of coordination and strength for the future dancer. Teachers and parents should work in harmony with the natural development patterns in children. Ballet should be a refinement of natural movement, not a distortion of it.

Where should young dancers put their toes when pointing in front?

For Levels 1 and 2, ages 3-4, and sometimes up to age 5, it is easiest for them to understand, and gets acceptable results if you tell them to point straight out from where their toes are in “Feet Together” (parallel) or First Position.

These diagrams showing where the child should put the toes when pointing to the front. Dotted lines outline the acceptable areas for the toes; solid outlines show the ideal positions.

pointing foot forward preballet

When they are ready for a more precise position for the pointed foot, we use an open fourth. This is logical, and technically correct, since the pointing foot comes from first position, not fifth. It is always best for young children to do any ballet work from first position to the open fourth position. Children should not use any more turnout for the pointing leg than they do in first position.

This open position lets the outward rotators work more easily than they can in the fourth opposite fifth. Plus, it is easier for little ones to keep their balance when using the fourth opposite first.

Pre-ballet students age 5 and 6 (Level 3) can still be given some leeway. The acceptable area for the toes to point within is shown by the dotted line. The ideal pointing position, straight forward to the open fourth, is shown with dashes and a solid outline of the toes (the darker green circle).

When the children reach Level 4, we expect more. They should have enough control to move their toes straight forward into open fourth. This is shown by the dashes, and the solid outline of the toes (the darker green circle).

It’s so important to realize that these little ones are growing. Not much can be expected in the area of turnout until they have learned to control their bodies. This usually doesn’t occur until the age of 7 to 10 years old. This discussion should answer the question of what is reasonable and best to require from the little ones for all steps using a point to the front.

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